As debates over anti-transgender bathroom laws rage across the country, an increasing number of individuals, businesses and organizations are taking matters into their own hands by designating public bathrooms as anything from "unisex" to "gender-neutral" to "trans-friendly." It's simple enough to do—merely hang a sign declaring an existing restroom all-gender, and so it shall be—but besides combating stigma and providing designated spaces for non-cisgender people, these bathrooms (and their accompanying signs) are a spurt of queer cultural production that are nothing short of fascinating.
Because no organizing body distributes all-gender restroom signs, they have no unified look, language, or symbology. What they say—and how they say it—therefore provides a personal window into how their creators think about trans issues and gender more broadly. Some signs maintain a gender binary while making clear that visitors should use the bathroom of their choice. Others don't comment on the gender of their users, instead detailing the specific facilities inside (as a recent British study recommended). Some mimic the dry, institutional feel of traditional bathroom signs; others use humor to defuse the stress of using public bathrooms while non-cis; others incorporate political polemic to remind cisgender users that bathrooms are serious issues. Some are created and posted by organizations themselves, while others are guerrilla attempts to hijack and de-gender bathrooms without permission from the organization that owns them.
One thing, however, is clear: It's impossible to know from looking at a sign whether actual trans people were consulted in its creation. To help would-be trans allies out, I asked five trans and gender nonconforming artists and institutions to create their ideal bathroom signage. Participants span a wide range of gender (and other) identities, and were given total latitude to design the all-gender restroom sign they wanted to see in the world. The only caveat was that it had to be reproducible online at high-enough resolution that anyone at home could print it out and use it.
Al Benkin, "all gender"
"For my contribution, I made a straightforward 'user friendly' sign. I didn't want it to be ambiguous or obscure. I thought of the folks who this is for and I wanted it to be crystal clear, but also beautiful, whimsical and warm, as well as utilitarian and official looking.
Simply put, everyone has a heart and dolphins are queer AF and everyone loves them. I used Helvetica to make it look utilitarian and official."
Al Benkin is a painter and assemblage artist based in New Orleans.
Bishakh Som, "Come One, Come All"
"Taking inspiration from the word 'throne', used as slang for 'toilet', I devised this image of a conjoined throne, upon which sit two trans people of noble rank, gender non-conforming royalty. The imagery locates trans people as agents of control over the spaces that they occupy, rather than as victims of such spaces. At the same time, the slogans welcome and open up the space to any/body."
Bishakh Som is a comics artist and architect based in New York.
Chris Vargas (founder of the Museum of Transgender Hirstory & Art), "Bathrooms for MOTHA"
"We initially thought about designing the entire museum as one big gender-neutral bathroom, but then worried that might crowd out the art. Nevertheless, MOTHA will, of course, have gender-neutral bathrooms. Cisgender [or non-trans] people will be *obligated* to use them, thereby neutralizing their own genders so they can't hurt us anymore….
"MOTHA will also have special gendered bathrooms. Many of them, in fact. Only transgender people will be allowed to use these bathrooms during their visit. The bathrooms will be organized on a gender spectrum, and trans museum patrons will be able to choose accordingly, based on how they understand their self-defined gender. That is, if they understand their gender on the spectrum at all. If not, we'll have a bathroom for that too."
Chris Vargas is an interdisciplinary artist and video maker based in Bellingham, Washington. He is the creator of the Museum of Transgender Hirstory & Art, an imaginary museum that takes the form of events, performances and discussions in the San Francisco Bay area and around the world.
LJ Roberts, "untitled (access/transit)"
LJ Roberts is a visual and textile artist based in Brooklyn.
Sybil Lamb, "Pee," "Poo," "Primp"
"So….. as a micro famous Trazgenerd, who is also a graphixist, I have a consulting gig on some bathrooms, Choosing the easy way out, cuz when u gotta go…, Im ending sorting human waste by gender. There will now be 3 BATHROOMS PEE
POO PRIMPING and stalls now go from ceiling to floor just incase you are a shy pisstapated prude who gets hit on every time you defecate. #noseriouslyireallydo have this job."
Sybil Lamb is an author and artist based in Toronto.